A family affair

Discover the rich conservation history of Tourbière-de-Venise-Ouest

For John Sauro, purchasing the lot where Tourbière-de-Venise-Ouest Nature Reserve is today fulfilled a lifelong dream that was kindled after a camping trip at age 12.

Raised in neighbouring Montreal, John first ventured into the great outdoors on a camping trip organized by his school. He couldn’t believe his eyes as the school bus drove past swaths of vibrant green forests and grey mountain tops that peeked out of the clouds to touch the sky.

Inspired by this trip, as an adult he later explored the nature that hugged the perimeter of the city. At 23, he gathered up all his savings, and after a loan or two from family, purchased 939 acres (380 hectares) of land in Venise-en-Quebec, west of Montreal.

“That was nearly 40 years ago,” says John. “I will be 60 this summer, and my heart still skips a beat whenever I come here.”

A wildlife haven

The Tourbière-de-Venise-Ouest Nature Reserve protects about 80 per cent of the of the Venise-Ouest peatland, a diverse system of bogs, forests and streams that is home to close to 15 species at risk. One is the very rare bog fern, which can only be found in just a few other areas of peatland in Quebec. Conserving this habitat is vital for this species’ survival in the province.

Around 100 bird species, such as least bittern, and many species of mammals, amphibians and reptiles live here. The area is also home to a pine forest with century-old white pine and red maple trees, two beaver ponds and bogs.

“There are multiple habitats here,” says John. “The two ponds were originally drained by the previous landowner and then restored. They have become a magnet for wildlife, including river otter.”

Least bittern

Least bittern is known to frequent wetlands, and, over the last 10 years, it has suffered a population decline due to the loss of these habitats. Least bittern is considered nationally threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and vulnerable under the Quebec Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species.

A walk along memory lane

Visitors to this area can peek through a window to the past.

“While walking along the boardwalk trail, you can see a line of stones in an area of the property,” he says. “This is because back in the 1880s, someone attempted to farm the land here. There is also evidence of logging, but the trees have grown back. They are so resilient.”

Protecting the land for the future

With two children of his own now, John spends time with his family at their cabin on the property, just a stone’s throw away from a beaver pond, where he watches white-tailed deer cross the pond and ducks swim.

“My favourite memories at Tourbière-de-Venise-Ouest Nature Reserve were made with my children,” he recalls. “It’s an amazing thing to see the habitat here through their eyes.”

After purchasing the first lot, John knew that he needed to do more to protect the land here. After mortgaging his house three times, he acquired four additional lots in the area, including a mature pine forest that was in imminent risk of development.

“The locals that live in this area constantly thank me for saving this land,” he mentions. “Being so close to Montreal, areas like these are always in danger of disappearing.”

Considering the future of the land here, John knew he wanted it to be protected for the long term. So in 2003, he donated most of his land to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).

By first purchasing this tract of land and then donating it to NCC, John helped open the doors for further protection of this area.

John understands the importance of nature and what it takes to keep it around for generations of Canadians to enjoy.

“I cannot imagine a life without access to nature,” he says. “It is where you go back to basics, and you realize you’re part of a bigger picture. Nature regenerates your soul.”

Species to Spot

– American toad
– bog fern
– blue-spotted salamander
– blue-winged teal
– common gartersnake
– eastern kingbird
– eastern phoebe
– eastern screech owl
– fisher
– green frog
– green heron
– hooded merganser
– redback salamander
– rose-breasted grosbeak
– white-tailed deer
– wood duck
– wood frog

Photo Credits (Top to bottom): NCC; François Villeneuve; NCC; NCC; John Sauro; NCC; Nicole Rien; Chelsey Clem.

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